Dropping the day sleep

"Nap time? No way!"
"Nap time? No way!" 

Picture the scene; you’ve had a busy morning with your toddler, wearing him out with a trip to the park and the shops. You’re tired and looking forward to a bit of a break. After all, isn’t that what naptime is for?

You follow the usual routine, but your toddler does not fall asleep. It’s been happening more and more, and despite all your pleading, it looks like your toddler is dropping his day sleep. So what can you do, apart from gritting your teeth and loading up on coffee?

Parent information services such as Tresillian recommend that children under three years of age have between 12-13 hours of sleep over a 24-hour period, usually including at least one day sleep. But the reality is that sleep patterns among healthy children vary enormously; some can sleep up to three hours in the day, but others refuse to nap at all.

Shannon Morrell says that her daughter, Ella, became over tired and bad tempered when she dropped her day sleep at 18 months, making afternoons very difficult for both of them. 

“Ella ran on empty, she was always tired and miserable,” Shannon says. “Dinner time was a nightmare, bath time was a nightmare. I was constantly looking forward to the end of the day. I had no time for myself and I was lucky to get a load of washing done, let alone cook dinner.”

Shannon isn’t alone – in fact, even Robin Barker, acclaimed author of the best selling Baby Love, has shared her experience of a child who wouldn’t nap. The retired midwife and child and family health nurse said that her first child settled easily during the day, so it “came as quite a shock” when her second daughter dropped her day sleep at 16 months. She says that when you’ve tried everything and your child is persistently skipping their day sleep, it’s best to “accept” the situation. “Things will be tough for a while,” she says. “Usually the parent is tired, the toddler is tired – it’s tough!”

To survive without that small window of peace, it’s a good idea to engage in low-key activities such as reading a book or doing a puzzle in their usual naptime. “The best thing to do is try and accept it, be patient, try not to over stimulate them. Do stuff with your child – devote the time to them,” says Robin.

Some parents opt to replace naptime with ‘alone time’. This usually involves putting the child in their room with some books, and setting a timer to give them a visual cue that the activity will be time-limited. While some children adapt well to this scenario, others may look for other things to occupy themselves, destroying their room in the process –which, of course, can create more stress between parent and child.

When it comes to screen time, Robin says that spending some quiet time watching the television can “calm everyone down and give the parent a bit of a break”. She recommends gentle cartoons rather than highly stimulating programs that will “get them worked up”. She does caution, though, that the amount of screen time should be limited, and warns against leaving a toddler in front of the television for hours on end.  

There is a silver lining: as with all childhood development stages, it can take six to eight weeks for children to adapt to a new routine. Robin assures parents that “things will eventually improve”, resulting in a child who is less cranky than in the early stage when the nap vanishes. While parents might mourn the loss of their own quiet time during the day, a nap-less child is more likely to respond well to an early night.

“Give them an early dinner, bath them and put them to bed,” advises Robin. “They’ll be out for the count.”

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